The Root Problem: Innovators Never Think and Act In Terms of Tactics, Strategy, and Wisdom

The Root Problem: Innovators Never Think and Act In Terms of Tactics, Strategy, and Wisdom

This is what happens when you lock down an engineering patent attorney.

I wrote a book about innovation. It will be published soon, its title is “The 4×4 Innovation Strategy – How to Turbocharge your Inventions (And Make a Successful Product)”. More information is available on my website, here×4-innovation-strategy/

I have thought a long time about the title of my book and especially about the term “Innovation Strategy”.

This title comes after years of hindsight. I have not seen a single book about innovation that does not jump straight to R&D strategy or to patent strategy, often right after Chapter 1. In fact, people often use the terms “R&D” and “patent” as synonyms for “innovation”. Many even measure the innovation potential of a company or an entire country as the number of patent applications filed over a period of time.

That is not a good way of measuring innovative power. Years ago as a young engineer, I went deep into R&D. And I had many good ideas. And because I wanted to know more about making my own inventions successful, I became a patent attorney.

After practicing in the area of patents for almost three decades, I realized that my initial approach to innovation was dead wrong. Over time, I even learned to like Intellectual Property, and found out that patents are only one of the 25 tools in a patent attorney’s toolbox. But I also found out that patent strategy is only one of four strategic areas that innovators need to cover in order to be successful. 

Now that half of my life has passed, I begin to see the entire picture. There is much more to consider in the area of innovation.

A Natural Five-Layer Structure

I have discovered a natural five-layer structure in innovation, which my book mirrors in its five parts A to E. The good news is that this is a natural structure. It originates from a transcendent power. That is why innovation comes with an inherent structure, with a clear hierarchy of what to do, and when to do it. In short, that determines a plan. If strategy is the big picture goals and the overall plan for how to get there, then tactics are the specific actions you will take along the way. 

Innovation tactics cover four areas: 

  • R&D, or how to develop your product
  • FTO, or how to identify potential obstacles when you bring your product to market 
  • IP Protection, or how to defend what makes your product unique
  • Market Validation, or how to determine if the product is something the market will pay for

For each of these areas, there are clear rules you should follow. I cover them in detail in my book. 

The transcendent power of innovation naturally leads to the hierarchy of our Innovation Strategy, the rules of our four innovation tactics, and the consequences of your actions.  

But consequences do not show up immediately. Success is the result of many good decisions taken progressively over time. Similarly, failure is the culmination of many bad decisions. 

Depending on the decisions you make, the outcome could go either way. 

To me, innovation strategy is like a forest, and innovation tactics are the trees. My book walks you around the forest, and we do not look much at specific trees. That is what makes my book novel over the prior art.

It shows you how to leave a legacy in innovation, by creating successful new products.

Five Levels of Insight

A complementary structure, describing five levels of insight, can be found in the minds (not mindsets) of innovators. Simply put, the goal is to move up from zero insight to full insight, which crests in achieving wisdom in innovation. 

To achieve a higher level of insight, you need to understand the differences between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge tries to game the system. Wisdom cooperates with the principles of the system. Knowledge is interested in what you can get from an innovative idea. Wisdom cares about what seed you sow in order to derive income from it.

Insight Level 1: robot. I am only including this for the sake of completeness. Minds at this level have no insight, nor knowledge, and you can forget about wisdom. If you are at this level, you just react to what happens. You are told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. You function like a robot with no independent thought. 

Insight Level 2: basic facts. The lowest level of insight is knowledge. This means possessing the basic facts. For a patent attorney, it would be knowing facts, such as, the Paris Convention deadline for claiming priority of a foreign filing date is 12 months for patent applications. For everyone, you would know standard facts like 4 x 4 = 16. 

Insight Level 3: tactics. These are techniques. Plans based on knowledge. Methods, shortcuts, and ways to get things done. If you want to draft a good patent application, get a checklist from us on the ten most serious pitfalls to avoid—that is a tactic. Other examples of tactics include filing a patent application in a certain country, or adding a specific claim category to your patent application that enhances the scope of protection of the later granted patent. 

Insight Level 4: strategy. This is the overarching plan, the approach. Strategy is knowing that in innovation, there is an order or hierarchy of what to do, and when to do it. Strategy is defining your innovation in terms of what really matters (“I can solve this pain and there are people who would pay for solving it”), instead of the assets you have (“I have a patent portfolio”).

Insight Level 5: wisdom. This is the highest level of insight. Wisdom sees the highest purpose in everything you do. Wisdom does not let small things dictate big things. Wisdom is being able to see the reason why you are doing innovation, and how to practically align it with the overall goals of your company. 

In innovation, the level of wisdom is difficult to reach. While I do not think that each and every innovator can learn to achieve wisdom in innovation, I do know that many innovators carry the seed for wisdom within themselves.  

My book is a guide for people who work with innovators, to help them advance to the level of wisdom. 


Time Clocks Innovation

We have different product development phases and this is what clocks product development.  

  • It always starts with an Idea. Ideas are generally conceived by inventors. And this happens under the shower, in the bus, or other unusual places and never at work.
  • The idea then develops into a Conceptual Model. A conceptual model is a very simple model which shows that the idea in principle can work. It has nothing to do with the product. A conceptual model is all about demonstrating that the idea can be put to practice.
  • The conceptual model usually develops into Prototype. A prototype may have some similarity with the end product, but it cannot yet be considered a product. A prototype exists for testing, for you to try out whether the idea can be feasibly put into practice. Through the testing process, you also get important information like the costs in building the final product. 
  • After a lot of testing, the prototype evolves into a Product V1.0. V1.0 stands for version 1.0, which is the first viable, market-ready version of the product, something that customers actually intend to pay money for. But please note that this seldom happens in a typical product development cycle, as many inventors fail before getting there. In the next section, I will explain why failure is so common and how you can mitigate it. 

If customers are willing to pay for Product V1.0, over time it will develop into a Product V2.0, and so on, as the product adjusts to the demands of the market. If you get to this point, congratulations! Your idea has successfully gone to market.


Strategy is the Right Mix of Tactics and Time

When these phases and tactical steps are combined together in a 4×4 matrix, what you get is an elegant model for planning and executing your Innovation Strategy. 

The interesting thing is that this model is only as effective as you make it. By itself, it is a powerful tool that can help you make decisions at various stages of your product development.

Now that is what my book is all about.

And not only from an innovator`s perspective but also from an investor´s perspective.


The Consequences

Failure of some sort is inevitable on the entrepreneurial journey. Nothing is perfect, and not everything will go your way. 

The difference is: do you want your failure to be low risk and contained, so that you can cut your losses and focus your energies on something else with a higher chance of success? Or do you want your failure to be slow and drawn out, like a zombie company that sucks out your life over years, leaving you with nothing? 

Failure can be cheap or expensive, and my book is meant to show you how failure can be turned into a success. 

Remember, innovation is a transcendent power. It comes from nature, and has inherent hierarchies and rules, which come with consequences. If you go against these rules, nature itself will punish you. But if you follow them, and learn to surrender to the intrinsic values of the system, you will receive its blessings. 



My book is intended to walked you through the forest that I have been farming for the longest part of my life.

By reading this book, you will get a guided tour through some fairly complex ideas. You may be able to harvest a rich crop from the forest. You may be able to zoom in on single trees and grow them well. You may get lucky. Or you may not.

I will not lie. Success in innovation is statistically uncommon; at most one in a hundred innovations achieve economic success. The possibility of failure lurks around every corner.

But my hope is that you will take the lessons you can learn in this book, and apply them to your ideas, your products, your team, and your business.

The key concept I want you to remember is the 4×4 matrix at the heart of my innovation strategy. It sets the order of what you should do, through specific tactics that you apply at specific points over the course of your product development cycle.

By following these guidelines, you will be better equipped to navigate the intricate forest of innovation. With these basic tools, you will find it easier to systematically discern between innovations with a higher chance of success, and innovations for which the time or circumstances are not yet right. This will reduce bad decisions, eliminate unnecessary pain, and possibly even save the life of your company.

By following the template of my 4×4 Innovation Strategy, you will find it easy to attract investor interest, because you will be prepared with the answers to all of their questions.

And with an in-depth understanding of the different parts of the forest, you will find it easier to work with product developers, marketing professionals and IP professionals. You will understand how these specialists think, which is essential because innovation includes many sub-disciplines.

Any good university course will establish a theory that can and must be applied in practice. Right now, this book explains the theory of the 4×4 Innovation Strategy. In fact, I have shown you a good part of my theory and toolkit as a patent attorney. You can already start using it. But in future, there will also be an Entrepreneur Edition, which will take you step-by-step through applying the theory to your own innovative idea, in the form of worksheets and other material.

If you have more questions about innovation strategy, intellectual property, or entrepreneurship in general, help is available in many forms. The best place to start is my website here, which has extensive training courses you can take, stories about inventors and entrepreneurs, as well as an active community for support and advice.

Whether you are an inventor, entrepreneur, or professional in other fields, I wish you the best of luck on your innovation journey.

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